How can I get my child to listen to me?

We have all experienced this, and as children, we may well have done the same to our parents. Our children have busy lives, with usually very busy, multi-tasking parents. They get engaged in playing, can retreat into their own world, be completely absorbed when using devices or screens, and can be quickly distracted by anything that is going on around them. 

Listening skills are developmental, and here are some tips to ensure you are giving your child every opportunity to learn how to listen. 

  • Be a listening role model for your child. Make sure you model good listening which means giving your child your full attention when they speak to you or ask you a question. This is not always possible, but when you can, stop what you are doing, look at them, get down to their level and show your interest which will reinforce your connection and love for them. 
  • Ensure you have your child’s attention before giving the instruction. Saying their name, and getting down to their level if possible, to make sure they are looking or listening is key.
  • Keep your instructions simple -not too many or few. Just enough for the child to succeed at following them. Make sure the instruction is not beyond your child’s capability, e.g. a younger child tidying up a mess in the toy room. 
  • Work alongside your child to carry out the task initially.  This provides modelling of the task expectations, and also a chance for you to gauge your child’s understanding of the task. 
  • Ask your child to repeat the instruction to ensure they know what the task is (if they are old enough). This step gives you the feedback and the opportunity to break the instructions down further if needed. 
  • Role play what listening is and is not (with children aged 3 or 4yrs onwards) – this is the fun element, as children love to see adults doing the ‘wrong’ thing, and are quick to identify what should be happening. You can then ask your child to show you what following the instruction should look like. Role play helps the child process the expectations and practise the routines in a timeframe outside of ‘real time’, which can pave the way to more success in the real moment. 
  • Positive feedback – Make sure your child knows you are recognising the efforts they are making. Descriptive praise* and non-verbal reinforcement (smile, hug, thumbs up, high five etc) can be motivating for a child, as they feel appreciation as well as experiencing personal success. 

*Descriptive Praise – Triple P describes this as something better than ‘general approval’ for encouraging a certain behaviour. Your words actually describe what you see / hear in the desired behaviours e.g. ‘Thank you for listening and well done on moving straight away to pack up your toys’. You need to be clear and specific, and praise works best when parents are genuine and mean what they say.

Have any questions?

Have questions about the content of this blog post or need further insights? Don’t hesitate to reach out to Chris! Your curiosity and feedback are always welcome.